Welcome to Fiction Friday, my opportunity each week to post an excerpt from one of my own books or those of my friends, present-day or long-departed colleagues.
Today you’re in for a treat, or at least I hope you’ll think so. In New Orleans, where I lived for seven years, this is Carnival season, the prelude to Mardi Gras day, which this year falls on March 4th. For those who don’t celebrate Carnival, winter doldrums may have set in, but in Louisiana and other places that do, the fun is just beginning. Purple, green and gold wreaths hang from doors. Mardi Gras beads are strung from trees. King cakes arrive at every party and parties are an everyday occurrence soon to be followed by parades.
In 1985 my novel The Unmasking made an appearance as a Harlequin Superromance, one of my very first. While it was the third novel I penned, The Unmasking came out simultaneously with the first, Brendan’s Song, by another publisher, Silhouette Books. Later the two merged, but for a while the two publishing houses warred for authors and I gleefully wrote for both.
I adored this cover right from the start. Isn’t it a beauty?
Bethany, the main character, is a mask maker in New Orleans. I still remember how much fun I had taking a French Quarter mask maker to lunch to learn some of the secrets of his trade. Bethany is single and a little bit lonely, as you’ll see.
I now have the digital rights to The Unmasking and in I plan to put it up in February for you to enjoy as an ebook for your own taste of Carnival. I’ll edit first; we’ll create a new cover–I don’t own the rights to the paperback cover–then it will be all ready to go. What I’ve had a chance to read so far pleases me. I probably won’t be able to say that about everything I’ve written.
So in this cold month of January, as Mardi Gras day beckons, this week and next enjoy an excerpt from The Unmasking. You’ll be the first to know once the book goes on sale.
The crowds in the flea market had picked up considerably since early morning, and Bethany found that she was busy enough for two people as the day wore on. Tangles of people wove in and out of the walkway, chatting, asking questions, tentatively trying on masks. In a few weeks, if her experience was reliable, the trying-on stage would almost always be followed by a sale. But Mardi Gras was five weeks away, and the crowds who were just browsing today knew they still had time to make up their minds.
The dark clouds continued to hover overhead, threatening but still withholding rain. A young couple approached her stall, admiring the colorful display. As Bethany watched them choose matching masks made from a simple form covered with sequins and silk flowers, she felt a small tremor pass through her body. She remembered a time in her own life when she, like the young girl in front of her, had used every opportunity she could find to touch the man she adored. Watching the young lovers, she stood rigid with longing, wishing incoherently that her own fingers were tracing the lines of the delicate mask, dipping to linger on the cheeks and the earlobes below the mask’s boundaries.
Their absorption in each other was not uncommon. New Orleans was nothing if not a city for lovers. The sultry days and nights seemed to hold passion suspended like tiny droplets of water in the heavy air. It was a difficult city to be alone in, to be unloved in. In her four years of living there, Bethany usually kept herself too busy to be bothered by her own enforced isolation. Today even hard work could not make her forget, and watching the young couple, loneliness weighed on her with the smothering pressure of the very air she breathed.
A clap of thunder brought her back to reality, and she silently wrapped the masks in tissue paper, made change and presented the man and woman with their new acquisitions. “Happy Mardi Gras,” she whispered, her voice trailing off as they walked away, oblivious to anything except each other.
Well, it is a romantic city. Next week, another excerpt from The Unmasking. Enjoy.